Superintendent Andy Street from Humberside Police and Stadium Manager John Cooper were in attendance at this month’s Fans Liaison Committee meeting, along with Chairman Adam Pearson. The primary theme of the meeting was the policing arrangement for City games, the new segregation fence and other measures relating to supporter safety at home matches.
Supt. Street introduced himself and explained his role as Match Commander. This is split into two separate but linked operations – the policing of the event itself within the stadium, and the policing of any potential disorder away from the stadium. Throughout, the focus was on decisions “being made in the interests of public safety”.
All matches are categorised – A, B & C. Typically, Category “A” matches are relatively police-free (with a small group of officers known as the “Taylor Reserve”, available to be called upon if required but otherwise not active). This is a legal requirement for events that attract large numbers of people (presumably this was a recommendation of Lord Justice Taylor after his enquiry into the Hillsborough stadium tragedy), and does not cost the club any money. More officers are present for Category “B” games, and Category “C” games are those with a high potential for disorder. It is also possible to have Category “C+” as an extension of this. City’s promotion into the Championship, which contains a disproportionately high number of clubs with hooligan elements, mean that more games than in recent years will be given “B” or “C” categorisation.
Supt. Street stressed that “primacy remains with the club within the ground, and the police provide support”. This means that the police will intervene only if required, preferring to leave operations to the club and its stewards. Outside of the stadium, the primacy is with Humberside Police.
Supt. Street discussed operations this season, and was candid enough to concede that mistakes are made and sometimes police intelligence is incorrect. He noted that his role includes a balancing act between the policing of football matches and the allocation of resources across the region. He said that Humberside Police often liases with other forces in the country and invites auditors in to monitor their operations.
Supporter holdbacks and the fence
He was then asked if the refusal to enforce holdbacks of away supporters is a human rights issue. It is not. The local police force “support voluntary holdbacks by the club”, and one was in place for the Leicester home match. Future home matches will also see them in place, with away fans asked to remain behind for about ten minutes.
The primary difficulty, we were told, is with resources and the actual enforcement of it, with the exits at the top of the stairs presenting particular problems. Supt. Street recently saw a holdback in operation at Cardiff, and it required just as many police outside as usual despite it being a ‘mandatory’ holdback.
Some of the reluctance stems from the problems encountered against Bristol City. If people insist upon leaving a ground they must be allowed to. It was stressed that even if the club operate holdbacks, the new segregation fence will remain. City officials stressed the clubs commitment to it after an initial financial investment. Under stadium licensing laws, John Cooper explained, one exit has to be available per 2,000 supporters, meaning that if the whole North Stand were to be given to away fans they would require 3 exits, all of which are to be encapsulated by the new fence. The new fence, which will have sliding double gates to accommodate access and egress as required, will hopefully be operational by the Luton match, and definitely in time for the visit of Millwall.
The police hope it will allow for a lesser deployment immediately outside the ground, with more resources available for Walton Street carpark. This was raised as a very strong objection to the police’s operations, with fears that it would simply transfer trouble from the North-East corner onto the carpark. Supt. Street conceded that more police are required on the carpark, something they manifestly have failed with in the past, and they must look to change their operational tactics to counter this. In future, the police will seek to avoid congregating in large, intimidating groups and will look to spread their presence over a wider area.
The issue of police turning up in riot gear, which can again appear quite unsettling, was raised. Supt. Street explained that this equipment takes some time to put on, and it is impractical for officers to quickly change into it in time to react to a developing situation so his men wear it from the beginning of a shift. He acknowledged this as a concern, but there seems little chance of a change in policy over it.
The fence was praised as very valuable immediately after the hot-tempered QPR match. The club’s commitment to it will not be changing, and the club will be adopting a policy of not opening it before matches for supporters to access the East Stand. This is patently not ideal, but the club’s position appears quite firm.
Adam Pearson noted the excellent response of QPR to the chanting at the first home game of the season, and regretted that some elements of the media were not terribly responsible in their reporting. Those elements probably don’t need naming. The club has identified those who were the ringleaders of the chant, and several banning orders will be handed out shortly.
City have finally secured an arrangement to have Walton Street closed at either end for thirty minutes for the easier disgorgement of traffic at full-time. In future, those who park in the northern section will only be able to turn north when leaving, likewise those in the southern part of it will only be able to turn to the south. The numbers who turn in either direction are about the same, so an approximate line of demarcation will be drawn up for future matches. This is aimed at speeding up the process of traffic leaving the area, which is currently not acceptable.
The carpark itself was described as poor. When the fairground site was levelled and surfaced, the surface, supposed to be ‘self compacting aggregate’, turned out to be fairly large stones, providing plenty of missiles for those intent on creating ‘disorder’ with opposing fans. The site is often used for flytipping, compounding the problem further. As soon as an even at the stadium is over, the land ceases to be a car park and becomes the property of Hull City Council again, and with the costs of tarmaccing the site estimated at £4m, it is unlikely to improve anytime soon, if at all.
Regarding incidents of supporters fighting outside the ground, John Cooper explained that the club have 64 CCTV cameras around the site, the recorded images from these are permanently manned by three people during matchday operation, which begins at 12.30pm. The presence of these may be highlighted with warning signs to act as a deterrent.
John Cooper explained that the banks of earth that exist outside the North-East corner are problematic, the raised mounds offer a vantage point for potential troublemakers seeking to confront away fans. He would like to remove these for safety reasons, but accepts that the aesthetics of the stadium site would be altered and this would not find favour with the council.
Problems with the signage for away fans were raised. This will hopefully be changed soon. The option of a specific carpark and park-and-ride scheme for away supporters will be looked into. The Humber Bridge area is a possible location with a park and ride scheme for away fans mooted.
The reasoning behind the Millwall fixture being brought forward to a Friday night was given. The original date is the ‘pull-on’ day for Hull Fair, when the large wagons transporting fairground rides and attractions arrive to unload them and begin construction of the fair. Confronted with the challenge of policing a C+ Category game while the car park is a building site, the decision was made move the match. Millwall were not terribly impressed by the decision, which was largely out of City’s hands.
This brought up an objection to the recent rash of games being moved from Saturdays at 3pm, a particular problem for exiled fans with season tickets. The chairman acknowledged this, but stressed that it is a part of life as City progress and nothing can be done about it. He will look into a scheme whereby exiles who cannot make games can have their seat for games “bought back” and offered on general sale, which is apparently done at Watford and Norwich, although this may only be practical for sold-out fixtures.
The perennially topic of standing was raised. Last month’s meeting saw a number of complaints about over-zealous stewarding with regards to supporters who prefer to stand. The club’s position remains that they have a duty to enforce the law of the land, which forbids standing in seated areas, but this must be done with a degree of common-sense – standing during important phases of play should be tolerated, although persistent standing must not be allowed, even for those on the back row. Frustrating, but the club argue that they risk a reduction in capacity if this is not adhered to.
The club requires a minimum of 267 stewards to put on a fixture, and with national annual turnover of stewards at 40%, this is a very difficult part of Mr Cooper’s job. A new and rather bureaucratic stewarding qualification that is to be introduced soon will make this very difficult for clubs up and down the country.
The Sheffield United home match has not been moved on police advice, but because the managers of both sides wanted an extra day for their players to prepare for it. A preference for matches to remain on Bank Holidays was indicated.
Four more pitches are being built at the Cottingham training centre, and the youth team will be moving in soon.
Ian Ashbee is naturally devastated with his injury, which requires an unpleasant sounding operation to re-fracture the afflicted knee to enable a better healing process. The chairman is pleased with the start to the season and optimistic we are heading in the right direction.
Finally – Peter Taylor was very happy and touched by the supporters who so loudly backed him in the Leicester game.
The next meeting will be on Monday 3rd October, and will have a much broader remit after this month’s police-dominated meeting. As usual, please leave any questions for Adam Pearson on our forums.